The International Writers Magazine: Ring


t took me more than an hour to open that damn box. Lately it has been drawing my eye when I’m in our bedroom. I say ‘our’ bedroom, but since the honeymoon I have felt increasingly like a visitor in her bed. When we bought the house we had it decorated and styled – it could have been a photo-shoot in one of those interior design glossies she buys – in coffee and cream colours.

Shortly after we returned from the honeymoon in Italy I had to take a business trip. I was away for four days. When I got home she had a surprise for me: our bedroom was still simple and elegant, but also an oppressively deep red. And on her side of the bed was this box. Squat and square, medieval looking, in a rich dark wood, and carved all over with a rioting profusion of ivy leaves, like a green man. I assumed it was a late wedding gift from one of her friends; I didn’t ask, and she didn’t mention it. But lately I have noticed she strokes it, every time she passes it. Her hand lingers over it in a way that…I don’t like it. I don’t like the way she looks at me as she does so, either. She might almost be a stranger, her dark eyes unfathomable, measuring, calculating. Bloody unnerving.

Come to think of it, that was how she first looked at me when we were introduced, before she smiled and I bought her a drink. Her smile…her smile illuminates the darkest night and infuses it with warmth. I think I began to fall in love with her then. I knew she’d been married before, I knew she ran her own PR business, that she had no children, liked Italian food – all the random details guaranteed to pique the interest of men like me. As far as my crowd at the bar knew she was not considered to be a potential bunny-boiler. But that’s men for you: we don’t ask the right questions. She is beautiful and I enjoyed her company. It wasn’t long before I asked her to move in with me. She looked at me again, that cool penetrating glance that seemed to measure and weigh every ounce of my soul. And then she smiled, the memory of that glance diminishing immediately as she said she would love to. I remember the shape of her lips as she said it; the way her teeth gently caught the middle of her lower lip in the soft ‘v’. I was mesmerised.

We live well together, embodying the advertisers’ ideal couple; we look good, drive BMWs, spend long weekends in Paris and Barcelona. We entertain – she’s a damn good cook – we have his and hers gym membership, read the Sunday papers in bed, drink ethical coffee…. It seemed to make perfect sense that I should go down on one knee in the candlelight at her favourite restaurant the night before we put her flat (she had rented it out) and my house on the market. I proffered a tiny green velvet box containing a white-gold set solitaire. The room held its breath while she looked at me, coolly appraising my offering: the other diners paused in the act of lifting fork to mouth as they became aware of romance’s drama played out in their midst. Paralysed like a small rodent by headlights in the coldness of her regard, I couldn’t move. Finally she smiled, releasing the pressure in my lungs, lighting up the room with an adamantine brilliance that outshone my ring, reassuring us all that I was not love’s fool.

We were married a year later. She organised it all without delegating, the venue, the catering, commissioning our rings, everything. She made everything seem effortless, running like clockwork. All I had to do was organise the honeymoon. I presented her with the tickets the night before the wedding. She flipped through the itinerary, frowning slightly, then looked up at me and smiled. I had managed to get the best of everything, first class all the way. I knew she’d be pleased. That night in bed she had a strangely rapturous intensity; we couldn’t get enough of each other. I remember her eyes in the near darkness, drinking me in. Towards dawn she finally fell asleep, apparently satiated. I lay there watching her, the perfect curve of her lashes against her cheek, her lustrous dark hair tumbled across the pillow, the shape of her moulded and concealed by the sheets, her breasts rising and falling with each gentle breath. I could scarcely credit my luck; what on earth was this beauty doing marrying me?

Later that day I was asking my self the same question, as I watched her walk towards me in her wedding dress, subtly sexy in cream silk, her hair piled high with wanton tendrils escaping around her face and neck. She did not once take her eyes from mine as the registrar asked the ritual questions demanded by law. When we finally exchanged rings she smiled again, exhaling a long breath as she gently pushed the wide gold band up my finger. As we kissed I began to feel strangely light-headed. I put it down to lack of sleep. The rest of the day was superb. Everyone enjoyed the day; my single friends looked enviously at my beautiful wife, my married friends toasted our happiness with good humour. And as the reception progressed, I began to believe that my good fortune was unsurpassed; I really was the luckiest man alive.
Now I am not so sure. Perfect wedding aside, when she looks at me now I get the feeling she is biding her time, though for what I could scarcely say. I dread sleeping in that room…I have the feeling she sees through my…efforts to convince her otherwise. Perhaps they amuse her…

I finally got the box open when I accidentally dropped it. The profusion of carving seemed to writhe beneath my fingers, making it difficult to hold. Inside it is lined with silk the same colour as these walls, shot with glints of green so vibrant it looks toxic. Embedded in a jeweller’s tray are six gold rings, about the size of my wedding band. When I remove one to examine it more closely I see that the inside of the ring is intricately engraved with a helix of ivy leaves. It looks familiar… I take off my ring to compare it: it is the same. So are the other five rings, the engraving crisp, as if barely worn. They feel heavier than they should, my palm can barely hold them. As the front door opens it comes to me then that marriage is a binding as well as a bonding, symbolised in the exchange of these rings that she chose. And as I hear her on the stairs I know that my ring will not be the last.

© Anna Smith Nov 2006>
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